The 2022 FIFA World Cup has been full of surprises and upsets through its first eight days of competition.
After tying both Wales and England in their first two games, the U.S. Men’s National Team faces a win-or-go-home game on Tuesday against Iran.
Arch Bell, a soccer writer for ESPN FC and concacaf.com, spoke to the Texas Standard about the tournament so far. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: So the U.S. men’s team has had, well, how would you describe their start so far? Two matches. What do we take away?
Arch Bell: I would put it as a solid start. The draw with Wales– that was a game in which you left with the feeling they really could have, and should have, won that considering they gave up the late equalizing goal on a penalty. So you really felt like there were three points that slipped through your fingers there. And then the 0-0 draw with England – that was one where you’re going up against a very good team, probably played better than England. But that’s still a good point there for the U.S. And so most importantly, what these two results have done has put them in a position of being able to go into their last group stage match. And if you win, you’re in. And honestly, that’s the goal of any World Cup group, especially when it comes to the U.S., is putting yourself in a position to advance with a win in your final group stage game.
Right. What else could you want? You have an opportunity here where all you’ve got to do is go out and score more than the other team. Now, this match against Iran – this decisive one in the group – is going to be held tomorrow. And I understand there’s some controversy with Iran calling for the U.S. team to be expelled. Can you explain a little bit more about what’s going on there?
Yes. And, you know, frankly, this is something that I think could have been avoided. And it’s something that, for the coaching staff and for the players, this must be a very frustrating thing that has happened. What basically happened is in the hours after the U.S. game with England, the United States, on the social media channels, they put the next U.S. game against Iran. And it was the Iran flag without the symbol. I guess it’s the symbol that’s in the middle of the flag there. And the reason that was done was it was a show of a sign of solidarity with the current political situation in Iran, with, you know, with women. It was basically the U.S. soccer’s way of trying to show solidarity with the protesters there in Iran. But what happened is that there’s been a backlash from Iranian journalists, Iranian media, the Iranian government, and it’s created an unnecessary storm for this U.S. team. And actually this morning, the press conference involving the U.S. head coach and U.S. captain Tyler Adams basically devolved into just about a geopolitical debate and, you know, topics ranging from inflation to visas to everything pretty much besides soccer.
You know, the fact that the U.S. coach was not consulted on this decision made by the social media or by the communications department, I think should be very, very frustrating for him and for the entire team when all they want to do is just focus on the game. But you always knew going into a USA-Iran World Cup game that it was always going to be about a lot more than soccer. And in this case, it’s actually been almost completely about non-soccer items.
When you get the world together, you can expect that there’s going to be some politics mixed in. Now we’re running out of time here real quick, but this World Cup has been filled with surprises, upsets, excitement. Can you tell me a little bit about some of the things that have surprised you the most as you’ve been watching?
Well, the first one that stands out is Saudi Arabia defeating Argentina 2 to 1. I mean, I said on this program a little bit ago that Argentina would win the World Cup and then they lose their first game to Saudi Arabia. What’s interesting about that game is that nine of the 11 starters for Saudi Arabia, they all play on the same club team. So those guys have been playing together. So it kind of it shows why, you know, Saudi Arabia have performed well at this World Cup.
Japan beating Germany, that was an upset. And then Costa Rica turning around and beating Japan was an upset. So we have seen some really unexpected results. It’s great. And it just goes to show you that the lack of preparation that a lot of teams had going into this World Cup tournament – most national teams get 3 to 4 weeks to prepare typically in a normal summer World Cup – but in this winter World Cup in Qatar, they really only had a week, week-and-a-half, and perhaps that has led to some of the surprises that we’ve seen.